Back on Track – Part 1 of a Weeks 8 and 9 Recap in the USCL

After our loss to Arizona in Week 7, we fell into a 3-way tie for second place in the division with Arizona and Miami. In Week 8, we faced the Queens (NY) Pioneers. On paper, the Pioneers look like they should have a solid team, but for whatever reason, they don’t seem to have performed up to those expectations. Here’s a somewhat late summary of that match.

We won the match 3-1, with the lone loss being my doing on board 1.  My game was rather forgettable, as I turned in my worst game in my USCL career. I was white against Stripunsky, and after a pretty normal Meran Variation that I normally play as black, we got the following position:

Bhat - Stripunsky 1

Black has just played 19…Qxe7xd6. White’s advantage is pretty minimal, but I think there is some advantage due to the difference in the power of the light-squared bishops. Black’s pawn on c6 cuts down his own bishop, and while White’s e4-pawn does the same, White’s e4-pawn can more easily move forward. If Black plays …c5, then the b5-pawn will drop. Thus, White should watch out for …c5 tricks from Black.

With this in mind, both 20.f4 and 20.Rad1 are pretty normal looking moves. Pushing the f-pawn prepares 21.e4-e5, while 20.Rad1 brings a piece to the center and threatens a discovery against Black’s queen. The rook move would have maintained a small plus.

I didn’t spend much time here though and quickly played 20.f4?, failing to notice Black’s strong response 20…c5!. Stripunsky has played these sorts of positions a lot, and he wasn’t so quick to miss that resource. After 21.e5 Qb6, Black is threatening 22…c4+ and 23…cxd3, so White can’t simply take on f6. After 22.Rf2 c4 23.Bf5 Nd5, White can’t safely take on h7 because after 24.Bxh7+ Kh8 25.Be4 Ne3 26.Qb1 Red8, White has huge problems with his back rank and pieces. Black’s already clearly better. However, in mutual time pressure, Stripunsky made a couple mistakes to give me a chance to get back into the game.

Bhat - Stripunsky 2

Black has just played 29…Ng2-e3, hitting the queen. I quickly played 30.Bc6??, failing to notice that after 30…Rxd6 31.Qxd6, Black can just play 31…Qxc6, since 32.Qxe7 walks into 32…Qh1 mate! Oops.

Instead, 30.Bxb5 would have equalized quite simply and I saw this move. For some reason, I thought that 30.Bc6 was even stronger. After 30.Bxb5, a couple sample lines might be:

(1)   30…Rf8 31.Qd4! Qxb5 32.Qxe3 (32.Nc3 is also fine) Qxb2 33.Nd4 with no problems for White – he even has an initiative on the kingside that forces Black to go for a draw with 33…Qa1+ 34.Rf1 Qa2 35.Rf2 Qa1+

(2)   30…Rxd6 31.Qxd6, and now 31…Qxb5 doesn’t threaten mate, so Black has to play 31…Qxd6 32.exd6 Re6 33.d7, when again White is doing just fine.

Luckily, my mistakes in this game didn’t come back to hurt the team, as they all won their games. IM John Donaldson, FM Daniel Naroditsky, and NM Greg Young all won on boards 2 through 4.

There was one interesting endgame moment in the game between IMs Lev Milman and John Donaldson on board 2. Both players were in time pressure, and had been for some time, when White played 40.g4? here.

Donaldson - Milman

The endgame was about equal when it started, but Lev seemed to be pushing too hard and found himself headed towards a worse endgame. However, John mistakenly traded down into a drawn rook and pawn endgame to bring the correct result back into drawish territory.

The endgame should be a draw – one idea for White would to play 40.Kd3 here. If Black plays 40…Rb3+, then 41.Ke2 guards the f3-pawn and leaves the c2-pawn undefended. Black’s best chance would be to play 40…c1/Q 41.Rxc1 Rg2, but then 43.Ke3 Rxg3 44.Kf2 Rh3 45.Rc4 Rh2+ (otherwise Kg2 traps the rook) 46.Kg3 is a simple draw. Black’s extra pawn can’t be realized here.

Another way to try and draw this would be to play g4, trade the g4-pawn for the h5-pawn, and then go after the c2-pawn, sacrificing the f3- and h4-pawns in the process. The resulting rook endgame with extra f- and h-pawns is a theoretical draw, but given the time constraints, could easily swing Black’s way.

Lev seemed to start out on this path with 40.g4, but Black has a trick here to make sure that never comes to pass. He can play 40…g5!!, forcing the creation of a passed pawn, no matter what pawn White takes. After 41.gxh5 gxh4, the point is that White’s king can never cross onto the 2nd rank because of …c1Q with check. Meanwhile, the rook is tied to the c-file. White can play 42.h6, but then 43…Kg8 stops the pawn dead in its tracks. After 44.Kf4 h3 45.Kg3 h2, one of the two pawns will queen.

Unfortunately, John missed this nice finish and played 40…Ke7. Trading on h5 seems safest here, but Lev played 41.Kd3. This doesn’t throw the draw away, as after 41…Rb3+, White should play 42.Kxc2 Rxf3 43.gxh5 with a theoretical draw. Unfortunately for Queens, though, Lev played 42.Ke4, but after 42…Rb4+ and 43…hxg4, Black had two connected pawns to none on the kingside. John duly won that endgame and we were headed to our first match win since week 4.


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